A Love Lost and Found on Oak Street
by William Baker
Published in Newberry Magazine
For nearly half a century, a love story has been blossoming over on the corner of Oak Street and Birge Lane between Newberry native Sally Lister and her childhood home. Having spent her professional life teaching all around the state in the technical college system, prison system, Batesburg Leeseville and White Knoll, when it came time to retire, Ms. Lister knew it was time to come home to Newberry.
Built in the mid-19th century, Sally Lister’s childhood home featured a stout, traditional design. Originally, the home consisted of a straight four-by-four layout, with two rooms on each side of the house and two more rooms in the middle. The four exterior walls were four bricks thick slimming into three. The interior walls, also brick, were two layers thick. Three more rooms would be added to the rear of the house between 1880 and 1950, likely at the request of a new bride not willing to reside at the home without some new work being done.
There was much to love about growing up in the Lister home on Oak Street. “The reason I wanted this house was because I was living in high school here and I really enjoyed it thoroughly,” Sally said. “I can’t tell you how cool it is. We watched the first Sputnik go; just laid down and watched it go across the sky.” “There was a bear wallow over here and we’d go down and play in the creek. It was just a wild childhood that you could have.” In addition, being in high school and living on a quiet, empty street afforded Sally the luxury to learn how to drive without worrying about traffic on the road.
The house’s various quirks became the unique threading that would bring their family closer together and leave them all with a lifetime of vivid memories and outrageous stories. “Because of the layout of the house,” Sally said, “you had to go through three bedrooms to get to the fourth one, so we all got along real well.” The Lister family home also originated in an era before the advent of insulation. “When we lived here, this was the coldest place in God’s earth in wintertime,” chuckled Ms. Lister. “The back bathroom—I kid you not—the water froze in the toilet, so we’re talking ‘Jiminy Cricket, it’s cold in this house!’” However, when it came to the warmer months, the Lister family had it made. “It was the greatest place on earth in the summer because the windows were up and it was cool. Everybody else would be sweltering and we’d just be happy as pigs in swill. But, oh my gosh, it was cold in the winter.”
Unfortunately for Sally, the Lister family would have to make the tough decision to leave the idyllic, utopian residency of her youth. Due to the layout of the rooms in the house, Sally’s mother couldn’t quite figure out a functioning remedy for the aged home; the Lister family would instead purchase a lot on Mower Street to build their new home. Still, the old home on Oak Street never left their thoughts. “They had been over there a while and mother said, ‘I know what we should’ve done.’ But she never told me,” Sally said. The question of what could have been done would echo in the back of Sally’s mind for decades as she taught around the state. She would eventually retire and return to Newberry to be close to her father, Bob Lister, a former Esso dealership owner and longtime State Farm Insurance agent in town. While house hunting, her lifelong affinity for her childhood home was given free rein to be freshly stoked with curious possibility.
During the house hunting process, Sally Lister decided to pass by her old home to show a friend; a “For Sale” sign was out front. Ms. Lister promptly called her real estate agent, Sinclair Talbot, and took a look at the house. “I knew I wanted it,” Sally admitted. After not being able to reach a price resolution with the seller, Ms. Lister ended up buying a home on Pinewood Court in Forest Ridge. “I went to sign the papers and Sinclair said, ‘Are you sure that’s the house you want?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not.’” However, with no more flex available in the price negotiation, she ended up on Pinewood Court. Nearly a decade later, an almost identical series of events started to unfold. Ms. Lister went to show a friend the home on Oak Street and saw another “For Sale” sign in the yard. Not being seriously interested in purchasing the home, Ms. Lister still inquired with her new real estate agent, Anne Kirkland. More work had been done to the house and the price had dropped significantly. Recognizing the curious series of events, Ms. Lister made an offer. “I bought it that day,” Sally said with a proud smile. “I don’t even buy shoes like that and I bought a house. I never do anything without deliberating on it a zillion years and so forth, so I bought it and sold over on Pinewood Court.”
As with any long-enduring relationship, love is not without its challenges. “When I bought the house, it was my firm intention to go up,” said Sally. “I thought, ‘Okay, mama, that’s what you figured out. You could go up.’” After consulting with her brother, Hugh Lister, a retired veteran of general contracting firm Cannon Associates, and an architect from Greenwood, they determined there was no way to build upward. Instead, inspiration came from another piece of her family. “My niece and her husband were in here one day looking at it and they said, ‘Well, everybody else is opening walls. Why don’t you open some walls?’” The architect developed a plan that would allow for four interior walls to be taken down. Other walls were closed in to fix the original issue of interconnected rooms.
Removing portions of interior brick walls can be tricky business in regard to load bearing structures, so seriously extensive, complex work was done on the part of Hugh Lister and general contractor Thadd Mays to ensure the foundation regained its stability and rigidity. “It was the middle of the summer and those guys were under there working, putting in footers, putting in stabilizers and they ran a steel cable from one end of the house to the other and pulled it back in,” said Ms. Lister. “It was unbelievable. I know what they did was not something I would have ever asked anybody to do, much less a friend, and nobody would have done it for me if it hadn’t been a friend.”
In the midst of the literal balancing act and whirlwind of work being done to the home, Ms. Lister endured a miraculous brush with death involving a tumor in her lung. Being largely incapacitated, Ms. Lister’s affairs were handled by Hugh and his wife, Pam, and the rest of the Lister family. With the help of her family and reliable laborers, the work that began in late 2014 could be finished up before Christmas in 2015, allowing Ms. Lister to move in and begin her new life in her childhood home before the end of the year.
Ms. Lister’s longtime love is dressed in beautiful wood floors, wonderfully high ceilings and adorned with the precious, meaningful familial items kept safe over the years and now proudly displayed. The broad, restored porch is perched next to the quiet of a green yard once overtaken by wisteria and now reclaimed with camellias. Ms. Lister shares her refreshed, peaceful abode with her rescued pets. With tears, she expresses the deepest appreciation for the people who worked so painstakingly to accomplish her dream. What was once a love lost has become a love again and anew.